Metaphors are my stock-in-trade.
On this particular day, I conceptualize life—or, more specifically, our society—as a symphony orchestra.
People have varying degrees of investment and involvement with society, what some might call “success.” Spouses, children, careers, prestige. Let’s dub these the first violinists. They are at the forefront (literally and figuratively) of the orchestra and drive the music of most pieces. The violin is the instrument most closely associated with orchestral music for the layman. Violas and cellos are the folks who have a similar level of success, but who must be allotted slightly more time at dinner parties to explain exactly what it is that they do.
The main percussionists are just as ubiquitous but far less glamorous. Their involvement is the foundation of the rhythms and tempo of the music, but the perception of what they do arguably doesn’t generate the same currency or respect as a violinist.
Participation for other instruments may be less fundamental but is just as important. French horns, harps, oboes and the like may all be essential to a fully-formed symphony. These could be analogized to folks who have lives that are fulfilling, but possibly not an across-the-board success. Maybe an elite athlete who recently got divorced, or a man with a lovely wife and children who can’t seem to break free of middle management.
The overall point is that there is something of a pecking order, just as there is in society (whether we like to admit that or not).
I play the triangle.
My ability to participate in and interact with society in a meaningful way exists along a very narrow band. I wouldn’t say I’m a savant, but I’m closer to that end of the spectrum than I am to the end upon which the first violinists of the world sit.
That is why it is so important for me to maximize my return on each opportunity I get. Unlike a violinist, I don’t have thousands of notes I’ll play over the course of an evening. I might have ten. Or five. Or one.
For trianglists like myself, there are very limited scenarios in which our expertise will be utilized. Our relevance is exceedingly finite.
A violinist who makes an error barely has time to think about it. By the time the “oh, crap” thought fires across his synapses, he’s already had to play another five notes. To mix my metaphor, here—what’s one strikeout when you’re going to get another two hundred at-bats?
The triangle player lives a very different existence.
When we miss that precious opportunity to hit the right note, as happened to me very recently, it’s more difficult to move on because we don’t know when such an opportunity may arise again. Or, if we do, we know it will be quite a long time.
More to the point, whereas the violinist simply transitions to the next note, all eyes in the audience affixed to every minute movement of each of his fingers, missing that note for a triangle player is much more serious. The notes we do have, few and far-between as they may be, are just enough of a psychological ration to permit us the luxury of believing that we are just as integral to the orchestra as a violinist. Missing that opportunity to shine instead forces us to take some time to ask some difficult and unwanted questions about ourselves, leading to harsh realizations.
“The triangle is all I can do.”
“It’s all I can do, but, when it was time to do it, I still blew it.”
“When I stop and think about it, the triangle is merely hitting a piece of metal with another piece of metal. It’s barely a musical instrument in the first place.”
“I will never be a violinist.”
And, so, we press on. Standing there, uncomfortably, sweating and gnashing our teeth, praying not only that we’ll have another chance to play our humble, ungraceful instrument, but also that we can convince ourselves once more that the triangle matters at all, all the while assuaging our deep-seated frustration with a false sense of superiority over the poor soul who plays the gong.